Weber County sheriff’s employee was high on meth, overdosed at work, failed to submit rape kits and other evidence, report says

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber County Sheriff Complex entrance Thursday, September 15 2011. Weber County Jail faced a federal audit and failed in several areas, forcing them to give up housing ICE detainees and likely costing the jail as much as $1.6 million next year in federal money.

For years, deputies at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office — trained to detect people on drugs — reported that their evidence room technician was high on methamphetamine.

They pointed to numerous times she struggled to maintain balance; how she could never find evidence; her profuse sweating or inaudible rambling; the white residue pooling in the corners of her mouth.

They said her appearance had changed. She cut off all her hair and replaced it with a “cheaply made wig.” She stopped showering and began picking at her face, eventually causing scarring. These were classic signs of a drug user, deputies said.

They said she could be getting the drugs from the evidence room. They said she should be drug tested.

Then-Lt. Kevin Burns, at the time the supervisor of the evidence room, dismissed the allegations, saying he didn’t have enough evidence to do anything and his “hands were tied,” according to one employee.

On Dec. 8, the day after it was announced Burns was being promoted to chief deputy of the jail, the evidence against the employee, Candy Follum, was too blatant to ignore. A citizen trying to receive evidence in a closed investigation called police to report Follum was “not right in the head.”

Three officers arrived and found Follum overdosing on meth while at work.

She later told investigators she became addicted to meth while working in the evidence room, and her habit started three years prior. She said she would steal meth from closed cases rather than destroy it, though investigators found drugs missing in open cases.

Follum told investigators she ingested meth by chewing it and had become a daily user. She said she took meth in 15 to 20 cases, but also said she came into work on her days off to steal and do meth. She would jam the empty evidence packaging under her desk to conceal it.

She denied taking money or personal property, but investigators found that wasn’t true.

Follum’s behavior is discussed in more than 100 pages the Weber County Sheriff’s Office provided to The Salt Lake Tribune after the newspaper made a public records request. The pages also discuss the failure of her supervisor — Burns — to intervene.

The sheriff’s office attempted to redact some pages and passages, including Follum’s interview with investigators. But when the redacted sections were highlighted in a PDF viewer on a desktop computer, the sections became readable.

Follum, who is married to a Weber County sheriff’s deputy, has not been charged with any crimes, though she remains under investigation.

She was searching for the evidence — a large bag of clothes and a wallet — in small envelopes. She also was not wearing shoes. Follum was struggling to stand, her speech was slurred and she had glassy eyes, according to an investigation report done after Follum was fired in January.

(Photo courtesy of the Weber County Sheriff's Office) Former Chief Deputy Kevin Burns, who was forced out of the Weber County Sheriff's Office this week after an internal review found an evidence technician he was supervising stole drugs from the evidence room.

One deputy activated his body camera to film Follum. They all discussed how she was clearly on drugs. Burns arrived, saw Follum and asked a sergeant to write a report. At 11:05 p.m., that sergeant, who had been working a day shift, received a call from Burns, he told investigators.

Burns asked him if Follum’s behavior could have been the result of a medical issue. The sergeant said he believed she was overdosing on a narcotic. Burns responded that he thought it was a medical issue.

The sergeant reiterated he thought it was drug-related, to which Burns asked if it “could” have been a medical issue, the report states. It was later determined that Burns had been in the evidence room with Follum two hours before her public overdose.

A responding sergeant later told investigators that he felt pressured by Burns to lie about how he perceived the situation, saying it could have been a medical incident rather than an overdose.

The sergeant responded that it was possible that it was a medical issue. He told investigators that he said this because he felt his superior was pressuring him to do so.

Three days later, Burns was in a meeting with other managers and brought the incident up. He said there were rumors that Follum was on drugs.

He “asked the command staff to help put an end to these rumors,” the report states.

Two days later Follum was put on administrative leave.

On April 9, the sheriff’s office announced that Burns was no longer with the office. Burns said he was forced to retire in order to keep his pension.

Burns is running for Weber County sheriff. With current Sheriff Terry Thompson not seeking re-election, Burns will face two other candidates in the June primary.

“I have a lot of success in leadership positions at the sheriff’s office,” Burns told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview Friday. “Every once in a while, a leader gets something wrong. That should not define my entire career.”

Burns says his force-out is political retribution, but Thompson said he gave Burns the promotion because he trusted him and wanted to put him in the best position to win the election.

It is not clear how Thompson or Chief Deputy Klint Anderson didn’t catch wind of the blatant disregard for the evidence room or the rumors of Follum’s drug use for years. Burns said he had conversations with Anderson about Follum and her inability to do her job as expected.

“It is aggravating and disappointing to me that I was not made aware that these concerns were not being appropriately addressed,” Thompson said in a prepared response to Tribune questions.

Thompson declined to be interviewed. He said he would respond to written questions by email to make sure he is giving legal answers.

The Dec. 8 incident was the most public of Follum’s drug-induced behavior, but it was far from the only. Investigators found complaints about Follum dated back to 2015.

After Follum was fired, investigators went into the evidence room. They noticed the metal mesh bottom of the door had been cut so someone could crawl through it, and the lock had been broken. The damage was covered up with butcher paper.

It was determined Follum lost her key, and rather than ask for a new one she forced entry, broke the lock and tried to cover it up. It had been like that for three months, unreported.

Once inside, they found the evidence room in “disarray.” Boxes of evidence were strewn about. Physical evidence was in one location while the evidence sheet, indicating where the corresponding evidence should be, was found in entirely different locations. One sergeant noted there were “deer trails” cleared to be able to walk around the stacked-up evidence.

(Photos courtesy of Weber County Sheriff's Office) Photos show the clutter that audits claim started building in 2015 and only got worse. Evidence was found in improper places, not cataloged and not with corresponding evidence. When prosecutors asked for evidence in a case, it sometimes took months to locate it and send it to the crime lab, if it was found at all. One deputy described the room as having "deer trails" through piles of evidence in order to walk around the clutter.

It was also found that Follum had not learned how to use the online report writing system, crucial to her job cataloging evidence in specific cases. It had been live for four months.

After a new law passed, Follum was instructed to send all sexual assault kits to the state lab. She questioned the order, stating there was a backlog anyway. Chief Deputy Anderson demanded they be sent.

It was later found Follum did not send eight kits.

One sergeant found evidence in a homicide on top of a stack of other evidence labeled to be sent to the burn plant for destruction.

During an audit in 2016, a sergeant noticed Follum kicking evidence being stored on the floor to move it. It was evidence in a homicide case, the sergeant noticed.

Once, she mixed up two guns stored in evidence, returning the rifle a man was holding while shot by police instead of a shotgun that fired less-lethal rounds from a case years before that was ready to be released.

The rifle Follum actually released was evidence in a lawsuit against the lieutenant who shot the man. The gun was repackaged and properly stored, and attorneys in the lawsuit were notified, the report states.

However, taking things to the burn plant was not one of Follum’s habits. The investigation determined she rarely did this, causing an abundance of evidence in a space already deemed too small, adding to the clutter.

It’s not clear how often Follum took old evidence to the burn plant, however, because an employee from the Weber County Attorney’s Office said she stopped receiving the necessary disposal paperwork three years ago.

(Photos courtesy of Weber County Sheriff's Office) Photos show the clutter that audits claim started building in 2015 and only got worse. Evidence was found in improper places, not cataloged and not with corresponding evidence. When prosecutors asked for evidence in a case, it sometimes took months to locate it and send it to the crime lab, if it was found at all. One deputy described the room as having "deer trails" through piles of evidence in order to walk around the clutter.

That employee was not the only one in the prosecutor’s office to complain about Follum. Many others repeatedly complained that evidence in their case was never sent to the crime lab despite frequent requests. The result was cases being continued, prosecutors taking plea deals they didn’t want to or cases being dismissed.

On a drug case, a prosecutor requested three times that the drugs be sent to the crime lab. They finally were after more than seven months. Another case took about six. Another was dismissed after the prosecutor never received response about drugs being sent to the lab.

“The fallout and consequences of this incident are far reaching,” investigators wrote in their report. “They likely won’t be fully known for several years. The successful prosecution of criminal cases with evidence that had been stored under Follum’s care is in jeopardy. The financial cost of this incident is likely to be excessive. [Redacted] will have to be compensated. Tens of thousands of man hours will be needed to restore and audit the room.”

Follum’s husband, Wade Follum, is a deputy with the office. The two had been separated for about a year by the time Follum overdosed. While Wade Follum had been seen in the evidence room or emptying drug drop boxes with Candy Follum, the two had been talked to about it and the conduct had stopped. Both stated that Wade Follum had no knowledge or involvement in his wife’s theft.

Investigators found Wade Follum honest, though they did find it odd that he hadn’t picked up on the changes in Candy Follum that the other employees had. While the two were separated, they still were around each other often. Wade Follum picked up Candy Follum the day she overdosed.

While complaints started in 2015, investigators noticed a sharp decline in her performance shortly before or around the same time Burns took over as her supervisor in April 2016, the report states.

A 2016 audit found issues with 28 percent of the items reviewed. Auditors found the condition of the room bad enough to cause a “crisis” that would affect being able to prosecute cases.

No corrective measures were taken as a result of the audit. Burns did not give Follum an employee evaluation in 2016 or 2017, and a 2017 audit of the evidence room was pushed back.

Three days after Follum’s overdose, Burns was in the evidence room and found a bag of meth that had been booked into evidence was ripped open with the contents missing. He did not report this until Jan. 5, nearly a month later.

Burns’ promotion was announced in early December, but didn’t take place until Dec. 29. That evening at 10:13, Burns’ keycard shows he entered the evidence room.

“What makes this access even more alarming is at the time he had been promoted to Chief Deputy over corrections and no longer the evidence room supervisor,” the report states.

An audit has since started. Investigators said it will take more than a year to complete.

Investigators found Burns beyond negligent. But he said everyone makes mistakes, and it shouldn’t affect the election.

He said his force-out is the result of him announcing his running, even though Thompson isn’t seeking re-election.

“[Under] normal circumstances, we don’t fire people for this,” Burns said. “People don’t get run out of work for this.”

Burns said he first thought Follum was on drugs when he visited her at her house when she failed to come in to work. He said he talked to human resources, but was told they couldn’t drug test her for an incident outside of work.

After that, Burns said he spent years trying to find signs of Follum on drugs at work, but never saw it. He said her use wasn’t as obvious as it seems in the report.

He just missed it, he said.

“I don’t know why I second guessed myself,” Burns said Friday. “It wasn’t to try and protect anything. It wasn’t to cover up anything. I just wanted to know I was seeing the right things and doing things the right way.”